British Guiana (Guyana) – Governors In The 1900s – by Peter Halder

BRITISH GUIANA – Governors In The 1900s

 by Peter Halder

      There were 17 Governors of British Guiana from 1900 to 26 May 1966 when the colony became the independent State of Guyana.

     According to reports, the most popular Governor was Sir Gordon James Lethem, 1941-1947.

     Sir Walter Egerton, 1912 – 1917 and Sir Wilfred Collett were the Governors of Britain’s only colony in South America during World War 1 (1914-1918). Sir Wilfred Edward Jackson, 1937-1941, and Sir James Gordon Lethem, 1941-1947, were the Governors during World War II, 1939-1945.

     Sir Alfred William Savage was Governor, 1953-1955, when the British Government in October 1953, suspended the Constitution of the colony, declared a State of Emergency, deployed British troops and removed the elected Government of the People’s Progressive Party which won a landslide 18 of 24 seats in the Legislative Assembly in the General Elections in April, 1953. Governor Savage, who according to reports played a significant role in what transpired, assumed direct rule.      

     Sir Richard Luyt, 1964-1966, was the Governor when Guyana became independent on 26 May 1966.  On independence, the post of Governor was replaced by a Governor-General and when the country became a Republic on 23 February 1970, the Governor-General was replaced by a President.

     The longest serving Governor was Sir Frederick Mitchell Hodgson, 1904-1912. Four other Governors served for six years each: Sir Wilfred Collett, 1917-1923; Sir Gordon Lethem, 1941-1947; Sir Charles Campbell Woolley, 1947-1953; and Sir Ralph Francis Grey, 1958-1964.

Governor Guggisburg

     One of the shortest serving Governors was Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisburg. He was also, according to sources, most unpopular.

     Sir Frederick had served in the Gold Coast, now Ghana, before coming to British Guiana on 7 November 1928. He had received a great deal of praise for his governance of the British colony in Africa, especially in the field of education. He was to find out, however, that British Guiana was a different kettle of fish from Ghana.

     He arrived in British Guiana with pomp and circumstance. His ship docked at precisely the time it was supposed to. He emerged from it in full regalia, resplendently dressed and looking distinguished, impressive and imposing. He was accompanied by his Aide-de-Camp, a Rear Admiral; and his Private Secretary, a Brigadier General.

     A huge crowd had gathered to welcome him. Enthusiastic locals broke the official cordon to go as near as possible to him to catch a closer glimpse. One lady was heard saying, “Our father, our savior has come.”

     The national interest in his arrival, the enthusiastic welcome and greeting, and the comment, were not without reason. The colony’s economy and the treasury were in dire straits.

     As an administrator, Governor Guggisburg, was a hard-nosed disciplinarian. He made adverse comments about the state of the colony’s economy and set about righting things.

     He enunciated a set of principles which Members of the Legislature were required to follow to cut expenditure. He also ordered them to attend each and every meeting of the body and to wear the regulation white civil service uniform.

     Guggisburg embarked on a national plan to rationalize all government departments through retrenchment of staff, and the control of appointments, posts and increments in the civil service. Working time was extended by one hour daily. Leave for certain categories of civil servants was cut.

     His actions soon caused disaster in the civil service. Hospitals, post offices, the police department, and public institutions in general, became short staffed. Government services suffered. The lives of people in the colony were affected. Many felt that the actions of the Governor were unjust and did not address the problems facing the country.

     Governor Guggisburg soon became very unpopular. He decided to go on home leave to Britain in 1929 after only eight months service in the colony. Unlike his arrival, only a small and quiet crowd gathered to see him off. He retired in 1930 after his return to Britain and died shortly after.

     He attended Christ Church during his brief tenure in British Guiana.

Governors in the 1900s

Sir Joseph Walter Sendall: 1893-1901

Sir James Alexander Swettenham: 1901-1904

Sir Frederick Mitchell Hodgson: 1904-1912

Sir Walter Egerton: 1912-1917

Sir Wilfred Collett: 1917-1923

Sir Graeme Thomson: 1923-1925

Sir Cecil Hunter Rodwell: 1925-1928

Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisburg: 1928-1930

Sir Edward Brandis Denham: 1930-1935

Sir Geoffry Alexander Northcote: 1935-1937

Sir Wilfred Edward Jackson: 1937-1941

Sir James Gordon Lethem: 1941-1947

Sir Charles Campbell Woolley: 1947-1953

Sir Alfred William Savage : 1953-1955

Sir Patrick Muir Rennison: 1955-1958

Sir Ralph Francis Grey: 1958-1964

Sir Richard Edmonds Luyt: 1964-1966

Sources: (Wikipedia and Silvertorch Online)


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  • de castro compton  On 10/04/2013 at 7:13 am

    Peter my brother

    You are rewriting history …the history we were not “taught” at primary or secondary school in Guyana.
    We are all indebted to you for your effort and contribution.

    Your stories will hopefully be read and published in print and electronically/digital format…..would love to read some more
    stories for primary and secondary readings….teachings….

    Cyril will go down in history as the “original” in Guyana s social media
    creator….the next generation of Guyanese will thank him for his
    Initiative “Guyanese on line”…..respect !

    Since my introduction to this forum I have learnt more about Guyana
    my country of birth and breed …the food the music the everything that is
    our culture our heritage our history….history is being rewritten being relived
    today…tomorrow…not yesterday.
    It is important that we are aware of what happened a few hundred years ago
    but more important what happened recently (-113 years ago)
    And even more important what happens tomorrow….

    Thank you Peter
    Thank you Cyril

    Write-on read-on speak-out
    Guyana is changing
    Guyana will change
    Guyana must change

    Forever the everlasting optimist


  • Thinker  On 10/04/2013 at 9:28 am

    Let me endorse the praise for Peter and Cyril.

  • de castro compton  On 10/04/2013 at 2:39 pm

    Thank you Thinker

    Peter and Cyril’s legacy….our praise…


    • Peter Halder  On 10/04/2013 at 3:47 pm

      Thank you Kamptan and Thinker for your glowing compliments. I also wish to convey ny profound gratitude to Cyril for creating this fabulous medium of expression through which words on the history, politics, culture, folklore and heritage of Guyana and events in other parts of the world flow.

  • de castro compton  On 10/04/2013 at 3:47 pm

    Questions for peter….

    Why was Sir Gordon James Lethem…1941-1947 the most popular governor ?

    Names interest me and SAVAGE s actions no surprise…! Even if he was instructed to do so….his actions certainly proved fatal…I would describe as a “military”

    Sir Patrick Muir Dennison 1955-1958 ..
    Sir Ralph Francis Grey 1958-1964 ..
    Sir Richard Edmonds Luyt 1964-1966..

    Three honourable gentlemen I will research to learn more about their tenancy/appointments……commenting if it was influential in change !
    If it was relevant…..influential or just insignificant.

    Sir David Rose. 1966-1970 was the first Governor-general but he was accidentally/willfully/killed/murdered/died in London in an accidental collapse of scaffolding…..
    My memory of reading it somewhere in London newspapers… !

    Not sure who replaced him …..up to 23 Feb 1970 when Forbes Linden Samson Burnham became president….rewriting Guyana s constitution as a republic but with HRH QE2 still head of commonwealth of nations…Republic of Guyana was born with Forbes as president but it remained within the commonwealth.

    Today with all the “pompt and ceremony” this entails not sure it will not eventually
    be replaced when HRH QE2 …. Charles first heir to throne will be a disaster…
    His namesake great great grandfather lost his head literally….
    Cromwell signed his execution papers and never recovered his sanity.
    King said his power came from GOD
    Cromwell said his was from the people…and king was blasphemous…

    Charles is much too “political” and his mother is aware hence her reason
    for remaining as Queen and head of Commonwealth ….
    William his son would be a better King but Royalty is now more a tourist
    attraction than a power…..

    We are rewriting history my friend
    Write-on read-on speak out
    Forever the optimist

  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 10/04/2013 at 4:13 pm

    Some in the right-wing of the US government could learn a few lessons from the experience of Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisburg.

  • de castro compton  On 10/04/2013 at 4:41 pm

    Absolute hilarious laughter…

    to some GODS are created…to others they are born…

    to most they exist….

    My GOD is nature …good bad and ugly…
    And when I am really “rattled” I say he/she is an “alien” head two arms and legs with a Giants heart….

    Hence my addiction to “love”…….then sugar cafine alcohol but not nicotine….

    I support the de-criminalisation of drugs….
    If one wishes to play Russian roulette with drugs “suicidal” I will spectate….

    If you wish to take your life it is your choice….laws must reflect that fact.

    Await the many disagreements……

    Freedom of choice….many have given their lives in this endeavour
    But warning freedom without anarchy
    Freedom within the law….arbitrary freedom.

    • Peter Halder  On 10/04/2013 at 5:32 pm

      Re above, Governor Sir Gordon Lethem was popular because he was people-oriented. The township of Lethem on the border with Brazil was named after him. Guyana’s first Governor-General was indeed Sir David Rose. He died in November 1969 in an accident in London while on a visit. Scaffolding fell on his car. His Chief-of-Protocol, Paul Mittelholzer was injured. Guyana became a Republic on 23 February 1970. Sir Arthur Chung became its first President in March of 1970. Burnham succeeded Chung. He became President in 1980 and died in 1985.

  • de castro compton  On 10/04/2013 at 6:31 pm

    Thanks for that quick response…
    Interesting as I missed that part of Guyana s history as I was in RAF
    in every corner of the British Empire… military service….
    Now am retired/retarded I can pick up the pieces…

    Thanks brother on my next trip I will look u up for cert….
    Ernest Siebs and Godfrey Wray are two of my classmates
    I love Lethem especially the little village in BON FIN
    which I visited last year by minicab via Linden and Amazonia.
    My farm in Spain overlooks the Sierra Nevada southern mountains…
    usually white tipped in winter with snow….
    I can view the Roraima mountains from BON FIN….
    borders GUY/BRZ/VEN.
    I will be visiting the region again in winter and staying for longer…
    I will hook up with some friends from LIMA in the Andies mountains
    on a boat journey along the Amazon river out to the ATLANTIC.

    Yes the Amazon river starts in Andies Peru and finish in north Brazil
    in to Atlantic ocean….a journey of a lifetime for my Peruvian friends and myself.

    Have to keeps look out for the famous Caiman and Otters…I saw a. Documentary
    where a group of female otters killed a caiman who was stalking their pups…

    Wow wow …don’t mess with wild animals siblings…
    Wish some domesticated mothers shared their instincts…ha ha


  • Hubert Marshall  On 10/06/2013 at 8:58 am

    Are you the Peter Halder I worked with at information in 1970?

    • Peter Halder  On 10/06/2013 at 11:57 pm

      Yes, indeed.

  • Ron. Persaud  On 10/06/2013 at 7:27 pm

    Governor Guggisburg might have been to British Guiana what Col. Robert Teare was to the T&HD. “Teare behaved like a tyrant, showed no respect for the workers’ trade union, and imposed harsh discipline on the employees.”
    Governor Guggisburg and Col. Teare might have been martinets but the latter was widely praised for the efficiencies and high level of customer service in the Transport & Harbors Department.
    Perhaps the style of management was required in that day and age.
    There was an abundance of evidence to suggest that Dr. Eric Williams rued, more than any other, his strident proclamation “Massa Day done!!!
    Almost overnight, civil servants were upbraiding their supervisors, “Yuh din hear the PM las’ nite?” “No boss again”.
    And in Guyana I remember well the transitional attitude when “DEM-BA” became “AWEE-BA”
    Please don’t get me started on the sugar industry!

  • de castro compton  On 10/07/2013 at 12:19 am

    Yes please….I offer you my wooden spoon…stir-on.!

    I enjoy your aggressive style in writing but know you are not malicious…
    Just contempous…!

    LOVE must follow respect…in order to love we must first respect….one of my few
    principles I sometimes compromise…-.
    I have never compromised my integrity nor will I ever do so…..

    If I do I loose my sanity……everything I believe in….

    My granddaughter said to me recently….

    “Grandad you must believe in yourself first then others will believe you”

    She is 4 years old……

    My response was “hope your friends believe you and play with you….
    Hope she understood my response….

    In today’s “workplace” “school place” respect for “boss” “teacher”
    and the discipline that they enforce is changing with the times
    Hopefully for better…..
    Work not unlike school must be places of enjoyment but certain ethics and disciplines must exist…..or we are doomed to failure…..

    Today in schools teachers have classroom assistants …even the teachers
    desk is in centre of classrooms….they are part and parcel of the learning process…

    Times they are a changing
    Ron read-on write-on speak-out and change will come….
    Philosophy yours

  • Sonja Millington  On 10/10/2013 at 4:08 pm

    Very very good information. I really appreciate it. Thanks for bringing me up to date.

    • Peter Halder  On 10/11/2013 at 9:05 pm

      You’re welcome.

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